Even after a Republican-controlled redistricting process that transferred a large hunk of East Memphis to the 8th District, trading it in effect for a vast terrain including Cordova and northern Shelby County, the 9th District remains predominantly Democratic, with a two-thirds black majority and a population with demonstrably Democratic voting habits overall.
Third-termer Cohen, moreover, has a decent war chest of his own, in the neighborhood of a million dollars, and he is fresh from a 9 to 1 victory over a name black opponent in this year’s Democratic primary.
But apparently Flinn, a former Shelby County Commissioner who has so far been unsuccessful in other races (for Shelby County mayor, for Memphis City Council, and for an 8th District congressional seat) intends to contest the election across a fairly broad front.
Besides the TV spots and yard signs that have begun to proliferate advertising Flinn’s name (as “Dr. Flinn”) and a selectively rosy projection of his persona, the battle will apparently be fought ditch by ditch, detail by detail, and issue by issue.
That would seem to be the lesson of a press release issued Monday by the Flinn campaign in an effort to counter the congressman’s press conference and subsequent press release on Monday touting a $31.8 million grant from the Federal Aviation Authority “to be used for runway safety, pavement and security projects at Memphis International Airport.”
Cohen, a member of a House aviation subcommittee, joined Airport Authority president Larry Cox and other officials at a ceremony announcing the grant.
The Flinn campaign answered with its own press release later in the day, this one noting that the funds were provided through the auspices of the FAA’s Airport Improvement Program, which, said the Flinn release, was “part of $3.35 billion in funding that was part of the FAA Reauthorization Bill (HR 658),” a bill signed into law by President Obama earlier this year.
But, said the Flinn release, Cohen had voted against the FAA Reauthorization Bill, both in the original House consideration of the measure in 2011 and in the form of a conference report (a final version agreed on by the House and Senate) this year.
Further, said the release, “[t]he Flinn Campaign has also learned that none of the other members of the TN Congressional Delegation from the Memphis metropolitan area, all of whom actually voted for the grant funds, were invited to the press conference….Steve Cohen had a chance to show unity with the delegation representing Memphis, Shelby County, and surrounding areas, but instead chose to stand alone and lay claim to their work and their votes.”
The Congressional Record shows that the bill passed the House in April 2011 on a strict party-line basis by a margin of 223 to 196, with only two Democrats voting for it, presumably because the bill contained controversial provisions imposing new restrictions on unions.
In February of this year, a House-Senate Conference version of the bill passed 248-169 and garnered 24 votes from House Democrats, one of whom was Jim Cooper of Tennessee’s 5th District (Nashville), the only other Tennessee Democrat in the House besides Cohen. Like Cohen, Cooper had voted no in April 2011.
The bill was subsequently signed into law by President Obama, who had also opposed its labor provisions but apparently accepted the Conference Report as the best version available and one that might help stimulate job growth.
As the Flinn press release acknowledges, Cohen had attached language to an early version of the bill that was designed to spur development of an “aerotropolis transportation system” at Memphis International Airport.
Asked to comment on the Flinn campaign’s press release, Cohen noted a misspelling and a grammatical lapse in it and called it “obviously amateurish.” Beyond that, he said his appearance at the morning grant announcement was dictated by the fact that the Airport was in his district and that he was pleased for obvious reasons by the grant.
In his own press release earlier, Cohen had termed the grant “a great accomplishment for the Memphis International Airport,”and said, “ These new federal funds will help ensure that the Airport can continue its long history as our nation’s premier cargo airport.”
He noted later that he had not claimed credit for the bill, although he also said he had voted for “22 of the previous 23 extensions” of the FAA before this year’s long-delayed reauthorization bill and the improvements involved in the grant announced on Monday may have been contained or anticipated in those versions.
Cohen also acknowledged that, as the Flinn press release had said, he had originally been a co-sponsor of the FAA reauthorization bill. “It was not originally a labor-bashing bill, but it became that way, and I ended up opposing it,” he said.
The congressman said there had been “three kids” at Monday morning’s announcement ceremony, evidently from the Flinn campaign, and that one of them had also attended a rally of his on the last day of the recent Democratic convention which he called to watch President Obama’s acceptance speech.
“I guess they’re going to be with me from now on out,” Cohen said.
And he could be right about that.